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Chelmsford Vietnam veteran honored with Purple Heart over 50 years after service

Chelmsford Vietnam veteran honored with Purple Heart over 50 years after service

By: Cameron Morsberger

CHELMSFORD — While Frederick Thumith was deployed in Vietnam, the unthinkable happened: He was ambushed.

While conducting a minesweep operation, the U.S. Army veteran’s convoy was struck by a mine, throwing him out of the truck. Enemy troops fired at him and his team, but Thumith survived, and he continued to serve his country until he was honorably discharged in 1974.

Thumith spent 48 days in the hospital recovering from those injuries he sustained in April 1969, but he would wait 53 years to be recognized for his service and his experience that day.

Thumith, of Chelmsford, received the Purple Heart medal on Thursday morning, surrounded by loved ones, community members and fellow veterans at the Chelmsford Center for the Arts. U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, Town Manager Paul Cohen and representatives from different military groups spoke during the ceremony.

Before the medal pinning, Thumith recalled the incident and thanked his family and the veterans in attendance.

“I continue to suffer from the long-term effects of the blast. It is something I’ve had to adapt to in everyday life. It’s been challenging,” Thumith said. “But I am pleasant and fortunate to come home alive.”

Thumith spent a decade on his Purple Heart request, and back in 2019, he contacted Trahan’s office, requesting their assistance in obtaining the medal.

When she heard about Thumith’s story and his “service and sacrifice” for the country, Trahan had a straightforward response: “We will do everything in our power to get Fred the Purple Heart he’s owed.”

It took an additional three years before they got confirmation of Thumith’s award, and Trahan said she “couldn’t be happier” that Thumith is getting recognition, as the country failed him and other Vietnam veterans when they came home from the war.

“For the first and hopefully the only time in our nation’s history, returning service members, they weren’t greeted with the gratitude they were owed, the welcome home with parades, but a cold shoulder instead,” Trahan said. “That led to delayed action to address the unique challenges faced by Vietnam veterans across our country, and many, like Fred, never received the medals and honors they rightfully earned.”

Displayed at the ceremony were several of Thumith’s personal service items, including the Western Union telegram sent home informing his parents of his injuries and photos of Vietnam and the damaged convoy.

Lt. Col. Keith Moran of the Massachusetts National Guard shared some statistics with the audience from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, stating that less than 0.5% of all military veterans — including those from the Revolutionary War — have received the Purple Heart.

That makes Thumith part of a highly distinguished group, Moran said.

“We are gathered here today to honor a man that represents that one half of 1%. Mr. Thumith, we owe you our gratitude,” Moran said. “You represent the best of our nation. Your service and sacrifice are an inspiration to all people you meet and learn your story.”

About 1.8 million service members have been honored with the Purple Heart, according to the VA website.

Brian Willette, state commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, said, of that 1.8 million, around 300,000 have gone to Vietnam veterans. And each new generation of troops is “just as patriotic as the last,” he added.

“One thing that any Purple Heart recipient will tell you is, ‘We were just doing our job,’ and we would probably do it again,” Willette said. “I haven’t met anybody who said they wouldn’t.”

In an interview, Trahan said she and her colleagues have prioritized providing adequate health care to the country’s veterans who have been “exposed to toxic chemicals and burn pits” by passing the PACT Act.

But health care is not just the physical injuries, but the mental ones, too, and Trahan said it’s important veterans get “the top-notch care they deserve.”

“This Congress has been very focused on veterans, modernizing the VA health care system,” Trahan said.

Lexy Lattimore, executive director of the CCA, said the organization was “honored” to host the ceremony. She added that she hopes the CCA can serve as a community hub for local veterans in the future.

“We are grateful to the community for coming out to support, to Congresswoman Trahan and her office and for all of those who attended,” Lattimore said. “And we really hope to continue providing space for veterans in our community going forward.”